PHILIPPINES: Farmers file plunder against President Aquino, agriculture officials

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Date: 02 October Type: News Source: Bulatlat Keywords: farmers, agriculture, plunder, corruption

MANILA — A national organization of farmers filed at the Office of the Ombudsman plunder charges against President Benigno Aquino III, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and several other government officials.

In their complaint-affidavit, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and its affiliates said the Department of Agriculture (DA) accredited this year three bogus non-governnment (NGOs) organizations — Kabuhayan at Kalusugan Alay sa Masa Foundation Inc. (KKAMFI); Gabay at Pag-Asa ng Masa Foundation Inc. (GPMFI), and the Kaupdanan Para sa mga Mangunguma Foundation Inc. (KPMFI)– that “squandered” millions from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). These NGOs figured in the P10-billion ($230.41 million) pork barrel scam involving Janet Lim-Napoles.

Citing the Commission on Audit (COA) special audit from 2007 to 2009, the complainants said that a total of P526.679 million ($12.14 million) was funneled to the KKAMFI, with the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), the Technology Resource Center, and the National Livelihood Development Corp. as the implementing agencies. The COA audit also showed that P108.15 million ($2.49 million) went to the GPMFI while the KPMFI obtained P83 million ($1.91 million) in pork funds from the DA last year.

In the same COA report, Kasangga sa Magandang Bukas Foundation Inc. (KMBFI), used up P56.551 million ($1.3 million) in pork funds for eight projects through Nabcor.

“Given the magnitude of the scam, the plunder would not have happened without the knowledge and consent of Secretary Alcala and the other public respondents,” the complainants said. The fact that as early as 2007, the transactions of the bogus NGOs have already started should have been enough reason not to continue with their accreditation. But, the DA did not lift a finger to delist and file criminal cases against the said NGOs. As such, it could be reasonably concluded that the respondents-officials of the DA have conspired and benefited from the scam.”

The complainants also cited several “anomalous” Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between DA and local government units (LGU) signed in November and December 2012.

“It should not have escaped their [DA officials] knowledge that only two persons, Merlina Sunas and John Lim, have been dealing with them for the release of the funds to LGUs and in fact were witnesses to the Memorandum of Agreement executed by the DA with the LGUs,” they said. Lim and Sunas are connected with Janet Lim-Napoles.

Among the MOA cited were by the DA and municipal governments of Cantillan, Madrid, Hinatuan, Tago in Surigao del Sur amounting to P10 million each. Another MOA was also signed by DA with Provincial Government of Surigao Del Sur with the same amount.

The complainants furnished the Ombudsman a certification from the farmers of Surigao del Sur who denied having received farm implements, inputs, fertilizers, or pesticides from the DA or the LGUs with whom the DA entered into a MOA with.

The complainants also cited the PDAF of former Deputy Speaker Representative Arnulfo Fuentebella. Denying any involvement in pork barrel scam, Fuentebella recently wrote to the DA asking the agency to return his pork funds amounting to P5 million to the National Treasury.

DA internal auditor Irene Alogoc, in her letter dated August 15, 2013 to former Rep. Fuentebella, said that only P1.5 million or equivalent to 15 percent of Fuentebella’s PDAF was released to KPMFI, a Napoles NGO, as mobilization fee. The complainants include KMP vice-chairman and Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) chair Jose Canlas, Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK) spokesperson Nestor Villanueva, KMP secretary general Antonio Flores and, his deputy secretary, Wilfredo Marbella.

Alcala is charged for violating Republic Act 7080 or the Anti-Plunder Law; Violation of Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act; Violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; Violation of Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Government Officials and Employees; Malversation of Public Funds; and Grave and Serious Misconduct.

“His complicity to the commission of these offenses is also established by his appointment of the operators of the scam to various sensitive positions in the Department of Agriculture, which made possible the commission of the offenses undetected,” the KMP said. The group added that Alcala also “approved various Memorandum of Agreements (MOA) to several local government units and allowed the proliferation of NGOs through which public funds are squandered.” Also charged were other agriculture officials Antonio Fleta, Ophelia Agawin, Arnulfo Manalac, Salvador Salacup and Irene Alogoc.

The farmers said that Fleta, undersecretary for administration and finance, is directly responsible for the accreditation of NGOs while Manalac, the head executive assistant of Alcala, is one of the incorporators/founders of Isa Akong Magsasaka Foundation, Inc., an NGO accredited by DA and a recipient of millions of pesos of public funds.

Salacup, meanwhile, is assistant secretary of the DA who, according to KMP, was responsible for the preparation and approval of the Memorandum of Agreement with the LGU and for the accreditation and selection of the NGOs that will implement the department’s projects. Alogoc, the director of internal audit service, notarized the MOA of the DA and the LGUs.

The complainants also hold liable Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Undersecretary Mario Relampagos for signing and releasing the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) and Notice of Cash Allocation to the DA.

“Through their acts, whether deliberate or not, the criminal syndicate in the DA, in conspiracy with private individuals, also charged hereof, thrived. And public funds by the billions of pesos were misused and pocketed by these unscrupulous individuals,” the complainants said.

The farmers implicated Aquino in plunder charges by virtue of the Doctrine of Qualified Political Agency.

“The acts committed by the department secretaries under the Executive Department are deemed acts of the President,” they argued. “Since there was no reprobation or disapproval coming from President Aquino regarding their actions, it can be easily inferred that the President acquiesced to such acts,” they added.

Citing the Constitution, the farmers said that the Office of the Ombudsman has the power to investigate or conduct an independent investigation even of a sitting President to determine his complicity on the offenses charged for purpose later on of filing an impeachment case against him.

The complainants said, “…those involved in the scam were using the hapless farmers and their miserable situation as justification for the release of the public funds they have squandered. Equally revolting is the fact that the agencies of the government, in one way or another, facilitated, abetted and even directly twisted rules and regulations to ensure the successful pillage of public funds.” KMP secretary general Antonio Flores said the plunder case against Aquino and his top cabinet officials is “an acid test” for the Ombudsman.

In a related development, Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap called for an impartial investigation on the involvement of DA officials in the pork barrel scam. “A full probe of the entire Department of Agriculture is necessary. We want paper trails, the signatories, the operators and masterminds of this department-wide scam,” Hicap said. “Billions were allotted for agriculture but these are not reaching our farmers,” he said.

Hicap said that for fiscal year 2014, the DA is asking for a budget of P79.1 billion ($1.82 billion), which include lump sum items. “We cannot entrust Alcala with this gargantuan amount of public fund when the agency under his leadership is implicated in the pork mess and other corruption issues,” Hicap said.

Alcala has denied any involvement in the scam.

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